The Ohio State quarterback saga has taken more unexpected turns than a toddler in a corn maze.
Cardale Jones took the first snap in the season opener at Virginia Tech even though most experts predicted it would be J.T. Barrett. Jones won the job but failed to keep it. Barrett got the starting job back and locked it down with a standout performance against Rutgers only to lose it for this week, at least, after being cited for an OVI on Saturday and suspended for one game.
The Buckeyes (8-0, 4-0), who ranked third in the first College Football Playoff ranking released Tuesday, return to square one to find Jones leading the huddle heading into an 8 p.m. home game against Minnesota (4-4, 1-3) on Saturday. No one knows where they’ll go from here or how Jones will respond to being the beneficiary of Barrett’s mistake.
“I expect Cardale to play great,” center Pat Elflein said Wednesday. “He’s had a really good week of practice. I feel we all have. If we all play well around him, that’ll get him going. We’ll get the whole team clicking.”
Jones is 7-0 as a starter this season and 10-0 in his career, but he posted his second-worst efficiency rating of the season his last start (107.04) against Penn State on Oct. 17. Coach Urban Meyer replaced him with Barrett in the third quarter and then stuck with Barrett the next week at Rutgers.
Jones won’t be looking over his shoulder this weekend, unless he’s worried about this week’s backup quarterback, Braxton Miller, replacing him.
Asked if Jones would be more relaxed knowing there’s no danger of Barrett taking over, Meyer said, “I haven’t really thought about it. I don’t want to oversimplify it, but guys get more relaxed when they play well in practice because they know they’re going to be ready, and he’s done a very good job.”
Barrett relieved Jones in the second quarter in the second game against Hawaii but did not play well, and Jones re-entered in the third quarter. The following week, Jones threw two early interceptions against Northern Illinois. Barrett took the reins again.
Jones played better in the fourth game against Western Michigan, throwing for 288 yards and two touchdowns. At Indiana, Ezekiel Elliott dominated the second half and took pressure off Jones. Barrett didn’t play.
Ohio State found a solution of sorts in Week 6 against Maryland, starting Jones and playing Barrett in the red zone. But Jones still struggled the next week against Penn State, and that’s how Barrett regained the starting job.
“Was he looking over his shoulder?” Meyer said. “I made the comment earlier in the year. How do you not look over your shoulder if you’re the quarterback at Ohio State. It’s like playing shortstop with the Yankees. You’re always looking over your shoulder.”